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Impressions: Steel Storm - Forgotten Prison

Prison Demolitionist

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Do you remember Steel Storm: Burning Retribution? I barely do, and yet I loved it back in May 2011. A top-down shooter that mixes action and puzzles, sneaking up to the edge of bullet-hell. Bizarrely, two and a half years later, a small piece of DLC has appeared – Forgotten Prison. Still, it’s a darned good one, and it’s a reminder that people should pick up the entire (really very cheap) core game.

Steel Storm has you playing as a floaty spaceship thing, which means as you hover around its top-down (you can adjust the camera angle, but it’s clearly meant to be top-down) world, you get to glide and slide about in a most satisfactory manner. Which is useful, since you’re likely being shot at from all sides. The original, from those olden years, was packed with missions, and some really surprisingly smart enemy AI. A good spread of enemy ships, each with different styles of attacks, often all thrown at you at once. Tactics: employed.

Forgotten Prison is an excellent addition to the collection. A very challenging mission, which (perhaps embarrassingly) took me a good three or so hours to master, despite potentially lasting only about thirty minutes on its own. It is, however, only one mission. And that’s a bit peculiar after quite so much time.

I was expecting rather a lot more, even if the DLC itself only costs a tiny £1.59. The original game is just £4, so relatively I was hoping for a bunch more here. Looking back, I realise that for the cost I can’t complain. And heck, I had a good time playing it.

There’s story behind this prison level, but much as I did with the original Steel Storm, I ignored it. It’s not relevant, really, and the game knows it, never imposing it upon you as you play. Instead it’s about staying alive long enough to complete the missions, primary and secondary, while having a good time. There’s never any pointless voiceover, or interrupting screens of text with a fizzy, lined image of a sergeant telling you the importance of what you’re doing. You just shoot at all the stuff, and feel good when it doesn’t blow you up.

Forgotten Prison is an elaborate map, packed with far more locked door puzzles than the series previously offered. (Coloured keys for coloured doors – “Hello Doom!” as the developer notes.) This means you have to fathom a path through the multi-tiered complex, recognising what tasks are needed for which obstacles, and learning to predict how the prison’s defences like to spring their surprises.

Learning enemy attacks, and finding the right weapons to best destroy them, is once again the core here. It’s never really bullet hell, but it does get pretty frenzied, and dodging the array of enemy fire while trying to aim particular attacks is the key to the fun. It’s great to have that embellished by a more complicated setting.

The issues from before still remain, which after over two years seems a rather colossal shame. The map is still dreadful, the enemies can still fire at you from different levels where you can’t fire back, and you still can’t hit them when they fly just offscreen. None spoils the game, but it’s disappointing that all that time didn’t offer a chance to address any of it.

And yes, like I say, two and a half years, one level? Perhaps it’s an attempt to draw in some attention for the crowd-funded attempts to build a full sequel. It’s so far only made a rather sad $316, and on the basis of the original it certainly deserves more.

If you never picked up Steel Storm: Burning Retribution, and I’m betting that’s most people, it’s really worth it. It’s just £4, or you can get the DLC and two copies of the game for £8. That opens up opportunities for the multiplayer and co-op stuff, which I’ve still not explored. And there’s a demo here.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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